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He's too honest for his good

Ron Troche is out of jail. But it's almost like he's still doing time.

The Carlstadt native went through a drug rehabilitation program. He paid his debts to society.

He has a case manager from Care Plus NJ, a mental health agency, who's eased his transition to life outside of jail.

This 40-year-old man even has a letter from the Bergen County Board of Social Services that says he can receive rental assistance.

But as much as housing would ensure his stability, it's the one thing that's beyond his grasp.

Group homes have waiting lists. Once landlords learn he's been through drug rehabilitation - and that he has access to rental assistance - they make excuses and say no.

"Maybe it's the stigma that's associated with it," said his case manager, Jennifer Stratton. "It's very frustrating."

In Bergen County, discrimination is alive and well. Only it's not the color of Troche's skin that's keeping him down.It's his honesty.

He's taken Zoloft for depression. He's been in jail eight times, usually for stealing money so he could buy heroin.

Troche's biggest crime, however, is that he's admitted he has a problem.

He's sought assistance from Care Plus and social service agencies. In that process, he's had to publicly admit his addictions and his illnesses.But his fellow former inmates from the Bergen County Jail have had an easier time finding housing after they were released. That's probably because they never admitted anything. Some of them refused any kind of rehabilitation.

Unlike them, Troche is being punished for helping himself.

"I don't bother anybody," Troche said. "I go to my groups and go straight home."

Troche's life is full of ironies. They rarely work in his favor.

Life actually improved the day he pushed a guy out of the way while stealing from a car in Carlstadt.

He was staring at a five-year term in state prison. Instead, Troche agreed to participate in a Care Plus program aimed at preventing people from returning to jail.

Instead of five years in state prison, he got five years' probation and agreed to undergo treatment for substance abuse.

He was released from jail Dec. 2. A happy homecoming with his mother in Carlstadt followed. But Troche knew it couldn't last forever.

"I would love to stay [with my mother] but not with the landlord," Troche said. "He spies on us, and he doesn't like smoking."

Troche has contacted the Friendship House, an agency for the mentally impaired, about getting work. He also would like a full-time job. Maybe if he can show that he can earn a regular salary, then he'll find housing.

But that won't be easy, either. Troche has never really had a steady job. Much of his adult life has been spent in jail.

He and Stratton scour the want ads and the house-hunter publications. The Board of Social Services gave him a list of possible sources but says it can't do much more.

Stratton consults co-workers, hoping to hear of something through word of mouth.

They consider rooming houses, only to discover that they're drug-infested and dirty. For a recovering drug addict, such a scenario couldn't be worse.

He and Stratton will get an occasional nibble. They'll check out a place and then chat it up with the landlord. Then they'll talk about rental assistance, and the conversation heads south.

"They'll say, 'Uh, well, he seems like a nice guy, but ... ," Stratton said.

Right now, Troche's best hope is to consider options in Passaic County - particularly in Paterson. He and Stratton are worried about the conditions of apartments and group homes in the inner city. Plus, it's away from Troche's mother in Carlstadt.

Either that, or Troche will catch a break. After 40 years of ups and downs, he's long overdue.

"That's my goal, to get away from this room and get away from this landlord," Troche said.

Reproduced with permission of The Record of Hackensack, NJ.

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